Catalan Modernisme is one of Barcelona’s most defining features. I goes beyond architecture, expanding into a cultural movement championed by Catalan intellectuals, artists and writers who believed a cultural revamp of Catalonia was the only way to get their society on par with its European neighbors. This movement fed off the previous Renaixença, an early 19th-century romantic revivalist movement which, like most Romantic movements, was noted for its admiration of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages was the golden age of Catalunya and, nostalgic for past glory days, Puig I Cadafalch relied heavily on architectural details from that time such as Gothic arches, spires, towers, and sculptures cut from stone with precision. Instead of the archetypal gargoyles peering out from a building’s sides, though, he used more earthly figures such as fish, other animals and people that still stretched out from the walls with their mouths open in typical fashion.
Catalunya’s romantic renaissance recovered the distinctive personality of Catalan art, along with the image of Sant Jordi. Less than a decade later, Modernist architects were using the patron saint of the Crown of Aragon and the dragon he slayed as a theme throughout their work. The legend of Sant Jordi represents bravery in the face of opposition and standing firm to defeat fear and save the future of a civilization, and Puig I Cadafalch especially exploited it as inspiration for his design.
Based on the number of buildings and projects by Josep Puig I Cadafalch in Barcelona and elsewhere, he is the city’s most prolific Modernista architect, and yet he is often overshadowed by his contemporaries, Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech I Montaner. However, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the famous architect from nearby Mataró, the Generalitat de Catalunya has named “2017 The Year of Josep Puig I Cadafalch.” The Ministry of Culture has contributed €300,000 to organise conferences, seminars, exibitions and tours in celebration of the occasion and to give Puig I Cadafalch the recognition he so rightfully deserves.
Besides impacting on the architecture of the region, Puig I Cadafalch was an art historian and a politician. This commemorative year also coincides with the centenary of his presidency of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya (the Commonwealth of Catalunya). And a decade before, in 1907, the Barcelona Museums Board was set up under his leadership – he took charge of the organization of the library of the wonderful Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), applying the international rules for classification of material. In his many roles, Puig I Cadafalch stressed the importance of Catalan art and fought to make his culture – our culture - more resilient.
Living at a time when his country was aware of its past, but open to innovative advancements of the challenging present, allowed Puig I Cadafalch to thrive as an architect while staying true to his values. He involved Catalan nationalist symbols in much of his work and showed an elevated level of craftsmanship influenced by the Industrial Revolution. The amalgam of old and new that he advocated made him a major part of the Modernisme movement.
The more familiar you become with this art-form, Modernisme – easily done by taking part in my tours! - you’ll notice that in terms of architecture Catalan Modernisme was also characterised by organic forms derived from nature, experimentation with different mediums and materials, vibrant colour, elements of Islamic and Gothic architecture, and curved rather than straight lines, among other things. Although Josep Puig I Cadafalch took some liberties with his own style, all the various influences of the time led him to create the arresting structures that can still be admired throughout Barcelona today.